We are around Muckle Flugger! Hooray, it felt like we were never going to get there at times! But it was certainly worth the four year wait to see it given it was enguulfed in thick fog last time around. The landscape was magnificient and the entire team sat on deck and gazed at the lighthouse as we rounded it in a rough sea with wind against tide.
Poor Puma was falling of the crest of one wave straight into the trough of the next before spinging back into action only to reapeat a few moment later. It was an abosolute eye opener to the power of the sea and how perilous it can be. We only experienced Muckle Flugger, the most Northerly lighthouse in the British Isle, in 25 knots of wind. How grateful were we that it was no worse!
Within a couple of hours of rounding Muckle Flugger we sailed under a big black cloud with absolutely no wind, and remained there for thre hours hardly moving. It was ever so eerie as the last shipping forecast we heard from the Shetland Coast Guard suggested sever gales! I braced myself, thinking 'it is going to get hairy out here soon.' The black clouds were ominous and threatening, there was no moon; it was in hiding knowing what was about to come!
Trying to eek every ounce of speed out of our thoughrough bred cat we pretty much went trough the sail wardrobe in what became our toughest night so far in this race. We braved the A symetric for a while as the wind steadily built. I wimped out when the wind got to thirty knots and Puma was planing on the edge of reason and control. Suspecting things might deteriorate I called for the drop, which was well executed.
Within minutes the wind was hitting nearl forty knots and we were struggling to keep Puma tamed. Only when we eventually got to our smallest sail plan (exclding storm sails which we really do not want to have to use on this race)did we feel confident that we were back in charge. Peter Brurwood did a gallant job on the bow and for four hours was battered and bruised as he led every manouvre from the sharp end, full respect!
For the past twelve hours we have been screaming along in the remotest part of our country at mouth watering speed, in a full on gale. It is quite awe inspiring up here but there is a definate sense of lonliness. A sense of lonliness that was personified by a distress signal we received from Beluga, one of our competitors this morning.
We received a Lat and Long from the Shetland Coast Guard for the distress which had been recieved and I was left completely numb as they had no other information or communication from the yacht. When out here nothing matters more than safety, absolutely nothing and without hesitatation we proceeded to their last known position. Several other commercial vessels and Winsome were also diverted by the Coast Guard. We were only eighteen miles away and could get there quicker than the lifeboat.
However, the helicopter was scrambled and located Beluga first. They made contact with Beluga and a very sheepish crew had to admit that it was a false alarm and they were safe and well. An electrical problem was to blame for the transmission of the distress signal. My face lit up and I had a warm glow inside, it did not matter that it was a false alarm, these things happen. What did matter was that within moments of the distress signal being sent from such a remote part of the world, in a severe gale there were four vessels and a Coast Guard helicopter there ready to assist if needed. Now that is a comforting thought. For me I am only glad our assistance was not required and we could continue racing.
We are just coming up to the half way stage in the race now. To me this is the toughest and most challenging part, especially when running in the full fury of a gale! I am only pleased we made it around Muckle Flugger just a few hours before it hit us. I actually question whether our most northerly outpost would have been safely passable for us.
It is bitterly cold up here, we are all dressed in full foulies, thermals, mid layers et al. As to be expected, there are frustrations coming to the surface and tolerance levels between the crew are being pushed to the maximum at times. Simple little things that did not matter three days ago have now become more of an issue and appear to be a big deal.
Last night was tough for all of us, manouvres did not go well, motivation was low and I think some of us were questioning the reasons for wanting to be here at all. The simplest of tasks seemed to take three time longer than normal. I went into the front cabin to pack a wet and soggy kite in the pitch black which was illumented by a single dim cabin light. I could hardly miss noticing the steam that I was breathing and which was quickly condensing on the bulkeads. Surely this should not be, not in August! I then realised my finger tips were actually numb, now I am no woos but I have to admit that I was actually cold, shivering in fact! The kite took nearly fifteen minutes to pack, it normally takes me three to four!
We are at the point in a race where a team can break or step up, rise to the occasion and come home life long friends with big smiles on their faces. It is always one of my goals to come home from a big offshore campaign with my fellow team members who would astually want to go out and enjoy a few beers with me (and visa versa).
Our next big challenge is to get through the next twenty four hours with big smiles and renewed tolerance levels. We are all tired and whilst no one says so, I am sure we all struggle slightly to motivate oursleves given our position in the fleet. Our team are so strong both mentally and in terms of abilty. In fact I have to say that in terms of ability this is the strongest team I have raced offshore with. Several of us have been sailing together for a long time which makes life so much easier in many many ways, we do already have a certain understanding of each other.
Fear not back at home, I am just paitning a picture of life out here on our beloved Puma. It was always going to be tough, especially given how much sailing we have done this year with Round Ireland already under our belts! We are going to rise to the occasion and that starts right now, at lunch time today. We all have personal challenges to overcome and we are going to help each other and support each other to ensure we are the happiest and most succesful team to sail back into Cowes next week.
Philippe Falle - Skipper